son lux [2014]

The Chapel
San Francisco, CA
4 March 2014

No matter how many times it happens, it’s still always slightly strange to go to a show for an opener. Stranger still when said opener is an established and respected composer and musician, and the headliner recently released their debut album. Of course, it starts to make more sense when the headliner’s debut album reveals itself to be significantly more accessible, pop-leaning fare.

Difficult music doesn’t always equal good music, but man, it certainly makes things more interesting. And, in the case of Son Lux, the challenge is undeniably worthwhile. Son Lux is Ryan Lott and Ryan Lott is a composer, musician, singer and weaver of musical webs that defy compartmentalization. There is always a keyboard – that much is clear. There are loops built on loops. Rhythm is taken so seriously that Lott’s music has (curiously) been described as hip hop.

Before this Tuesday night at The Chapel, San Francisco’s newest indie darling venue, I had never seen Son Lux live and could only speculate how his rich, complex recordings would translate to the stage. The first thing that struck me was Lott’s slight physical resemblance to Buddy Holly. It could very well have just been me, but the likeness seemed to lend a youthful and innocent atmosphere to the otherwise dark, downbeat proceedings.

Lott’s voice is a divider. It is not for everybody. He is a classically trained composer and musician, but his voice does not seem to have undergone as rigorous a development. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy it. I think of Lott’s voice as strained in a Peter Gabriel fashion – never quite comfortable, but powerful in its passionate vulnerability.

Lott was joined on stage by an incredibly-talented guitarist and a young and seemingly-inexperienced, but enthusiastic drummer. Together with Lott’s keyboard and his extensive laptop library, they created swirling soundscapes that at times only faintly resembled their equivalent recordings. Clouds of haunting melody ruled completely by beats that forever teased at a rewarding longevity – only to shift and pivot each time – just at the precipice of familiarity.

I should have noticed this more from the recordings, I told myself. How could I have missed such a significant characteristic of his music? And yet, it was only live, standing before this nomadic orchestration, that it all became clear – when the sold out mass of bodies moved together with the satisfying beat, only to be, time and time again, repeatedly deflected onto an entirely different path. Mind and body attach themselves to a particular melody or phrase and then it is suddenly gone, never to return. At times, there is nothing but silence for incredible stretches of seconds.

“Easy” was perhaps the most guilty of this constantly-shifting movement. The lumbering, languid 8-minute “Stay” proved slightly less fleeting, and perhaps because of that, offered a more welcome sanctuary.

All of this controlled chaos made it clear that Son Lux’s influences are perhaps more improvised jazz and blues than indie electronica and hip hop. This was more dramatically underscored by the baritone saxophone that joined the band for the driven, unrelenting electric finale.

On this night, Son Lux proved to be a band that must be experienced live to be truly appreciated. It is a ride, no doubt – a ride that refuses comfort, but embraces change.